Orinda Schools Come Together to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

(Latika Malkani, Photographer)
A yard sign in front of Latika Malkani’s home is one of several signs Miramonte’s Parent’s Club DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) committee produced and placed on campus and on parent’s home lawns. The signs reflect the core ideas and values behind Miramonte High School’s DEI group.

    Diversity, equity and inclusion are terms familiar to society in the wake of Black Lives Matter and other social movements aimed at dismantling bias and normalizing differences.
These goals also provide the basis for the formation and maintenance in Orinda schools of diversity, equity and inclusion groups that as stated in Miramonte High School’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) Parents Group webpage (https://www.miramonteparents.com/diversity-and-inclusion-at-miramonte/), “actively seek to understand the complex and rich identities of self and others.”
    “[There are] definitely expressions of hate, unfortunately, in our community,” Miramonte ED&I group member Latika Malkani said.
    Malkani, who sees normalizing the experiences of others as critical, asked, “How are people supposed to be accepting of difference without that exposure?”
    The need for that exposure and those positive experiences that change other peoples’ perspectives and minds drew Malkani to join Miramonte’s ED&I group.
    The group, like the other diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) collectives found in Orinda’s schools, tackles issues of hate and intolerance using a multifaceted approach. In Miramonte’s case, this includes book clubs, student education, student initiatives that support equity, a curriculum committee and student surveys, Malkani said.
    She also emphasized the multi-part parent education efforts of the group, referencing the “really powerful” speaker series that reinforced the anti-racist, inclusive mission of Miramonte High School’s ED&I group.
    Miramonte’s Associate Principal, Bruce Giron, and former Miramonte Principal Julie Parks led “Courageous Conversation” workshops aimed at furthering positive interracial dialogue.
    Malkani mentioned that schools coordinate on a district level with book clubs, coming together on the parent education experience, with different schools taking turns hosting the clubs.
    Some of the other diversity, equity and inclusion events also happened throughout the Acalanes Union High School District, Malkani noted. This included Acalanes, Las Lomas and Campolindo High Schools.
    “Our leaders last year did a lot. They were really diligent, and put a lot of work into this. I have to say, I think it paid off,” Malkani said of Miramonte’s DEI focus.
    Orinda’s elementary schools have also joined the DEI movement. Sleepy Hollow Elementary School’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion group, formally established in Aug. 2020, spent the ’20 -‘21 school year making progress towards addressing bias in the school’s community by adding books from diverse authors to their library and holding parent education events with the Anti-Defamation League. The school is also coordinating with other Orinda Unified School District (OUSD) elementary schools to enact a curriculum for Black History Month.
    “Our mission is to address bias and promote diversity, equity and inclusion education and practices among Sleepy Hollow students, families and staff, thereby preparing students for lifelong learning in a diverse world,” Sleepy Hollow DEI Parents’ Group co-lead Bridgette Thomas said.
    Nov. 2020 saw the City of Orinda and the OUSD’s announcement of a Joint Proclamation & Pledge in Support of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action. It detailed a “continued commitment to stand up against hate, build awareness and increase tolerance,” as well as an agreement the proclamation and pledge would be displayed prominently throughout Orinda and the OUSD administrative offices and meeting spaces.
    Orinda Union School District has its own Wellness, Inclusion, Student and Staff Equity (WISSE) committee that meets regularly, as noted on the district’s website (www.orindaschools.org/dei).
    OUSD also has an ongoing partnership with the City of Orinda, which has facilitated the formation of the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action) group, as well as what the district describes as, “continuing collaboration with school site Community Coalitions focused on this important work.”
    Miramonte ED&I group member Malkani emphasized the need to make students of color and families of color feel welcome within the Orinda community, remarking it is an ongoing effort.
    She spoke of pro-diversity signage posted at Miramonte and other schools, developed last year and rolled out this year, intended to promote the ideas behind the DEI groups.
    “The visual does matter,” she said.
    Malkani also commented on Orinda’s demographics.
    “It’s just not diverse,” she said. “And so people are not going to feel welcome here, who aren’t part of that, unless there are actually active efforts.”
    She spoke of how the lack of diversity within the community can “feed upon itself,” creating an unwelcome environment for new residents who may consider moving to Orinda.
    “Again, it’s all about normalizing. Normalizing difference, normalizing equity as a positive attribute,” she said. “Without that, our students [in Orinda] don’t feel welcome here.”
Andrea Madison can be reached at drea.madison.05@gmail.com.

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